Despite lead, Hurricanes still have yet to adjust to a very different series

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Hurricanes’ Niederreiter and Pesce on preparation for game 3 against Islanders

The Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter and Brett Pesce talk about the keys to Game 3 against the New York Islanders

The Carolina Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter and Brett Pesce talk about the keys to Game 3 against the New York Islanders

You need only to look at the scorelines – a goal scored about every half-hour – to see how different this series is from the last. Where the Washington Capitals offered time and space, the New York Islanders offer none. Where the Hurricanes were able to beat the Capitals with quantity over quality, they have taken a 2-0 lead over the Islanders with quality over quantity.

“They played 48 seconds of pretty good hockey,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz bemoaned Sunday after the Hurricanes’ 2-1 win in Game 2, and the Islanders arrive in Raleigh feeling very much like the Hurricanes did when they returned from the first two games in Washington: That they played well enough to win both games, and did not.

The big difference there, obviously, is that the Capitals were at home and the defending Stanley Cup champions, and the Islanders are neither.

But the Hurricanes’ adjustment to this very different kind of hockey, to having another team impose its will on them instead of the other way around, remains ongoing.

“It’s a completely different series,” Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter said Tuesday. “They play a tight-checking game. They don’t give us a lot and the chances they gave us, we had to capitalize, and we did. We gave them a few too many Grade A chances, our goalie had to make a lot of terrific and big saves, that’s something we’ve got to sharpen it and take a little from their page.”

Despite their headstart, there are some things in the Hurricanes’ game they have to fix in Game 3 on Wednesday, or that lead will evaporate as quickly as it was extended.

Rest will help. Tuesday’s practice was the Hurricanes’ first in 13 days, playing every other night (or afternoon) for six straight games, going right from Game 7 in Washington to Game 1 in Brooklyn with nary a moment to relax or recuperate. Sunday’s slippage from the way the Hurricanes had played throughout the playoffs was what Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour expected Friday in Game 1, when the Hurricanes gutted out a close-checking 1-0 overtime win instead.

“I kind of expected that bad game to be Game 1, to be honest,” Brind’Amour said. “I felt like we were going to see that, where we were just a little off. Our coverage, we were there but we weren’t there, and they had a bunch of close calls. Mostly, we were just off a little bit. So we’ve got to touch up on that. We actually did a lot of good things too that didn’t translate.”

With the energy of their crowd, the Hurricanes need to do a better job getting the puck up the ice quickly, a better job of taking care of the puck in the neutral zone, and a better job getting it past the Islanders’ defense to get their forecheck going. Some of that can be attributable to fatigue; some of that to how organized and disciplined the Islanders are, a Trotz signature.

The real bulwark in this series, the reason the Hurricanes are up despite seeing a five-on-five possession edge that was nearing 60 percent in the Washington series dip below 50 percent – and without any help from the power play – is Carolina’s blue line, especially the core trio of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk, a group that went almost all of Game 2 shorthanded after Trevor van Riemsdyk’s injury.

They have been able to do enough to slow down the Islanders offensively, combined with timely goaltending from Petr Mrazek in Game 1 and Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney in Game 2, for the Hurricanes to win despite never really playing their style.

“We snuck away with a couple wins, the last one we kind of stole, but that what’s you need sometimes,” Niederreiter said. “We know we have to be better.”

At home, rested, with a few key bodies back in the lineup, the Hurricanes have a better chance of actually playing their game in Game 3. They may yet be able to close out this series reacting to the Islanders, but they have a better chance of getting it done – and getting it done quickly – if they can dictate their game the way they did against the Capitals.

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